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Chirac’s death: French head to palace to remember leader

French public queue to pay tribute in front of a picture of the late French President Jacques Chirac displayed at the Elysee presidential palace

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Mourners sign a book of condolence at the Élysée Palace beside a picture of the late president

France is paying its respects to ex-President Jacques Chirac, ahead of a public ceremony in Paris on Sunday and a day of national mourning and a private funeral planned for Monday.

Hundreds of mourners queued outside the Élysée Palace to sign a book of condolence in the hall of honour where Chirac used to greet heads of state.

Chirac died on Thursday aged 86. He was twice president and prime minister.

His widow, Bernardette, was at his bedside and is said to be deeply hurt.

‘A Frenchman in every sense’

As pictures of the former president adorned France’s front pages on Friday, friends and politicians remembered a man who had represented the country on the world stage.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe praised Chirac as “a Frenchman in every sense of the word”. “Like everyone I’m very moved and a little nostalgic.”

Media captionSome of the key moments in Jacques Chirac’s career

A one-time rival for the presidency, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, paid tribute to a man who had forcefully argued against the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and who had taken on the legacy of previous leaders, Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou.

Football legend Zinédine Zidane, who was part of the World Cup-winning French team of 1998, told an emotional press conference in Madrid that Chirac “was our president but above all he was president and friend to all sportsmen and women. He adored people not just the world of politics”.

Chirac’s close friend Jean-Louis Debré said that in his final moments he had found communication hard but still managed to convey his friendship. “He took my hand and wouldn’t let go for an hour.”

Three days of remembrance

The French government said a public ceremony would take place on Sunday at Les Invalides, where the late leader’s remains would be placed for the French public to pay its last respects.

France’s football federation (FFF) will hold a minute’s silence before all the weekend’s matches, amateur as well as professional.

On Monday, which has been declared a day of national mourning, a minute’s silence will be held in schools and public buildings across the country at 15:00 (13:00 GMT). President Emmanuel Macron will attend a ceremony at the church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris.

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This woman called Edith carried a photo of herself with the former president as she paid her respects at the Élysée

A private family funeral will take place on the same day at Montparnasse cemetery, where Chirac will be laid to rest close to his late daughter, Laurence. His eldest child died in 2016 aged 58 after years of suffering from chronic anorexia.

Who was Chirac?

The son of a bank manager, his career began as a high-level civil servant before he went into politics on the centre right.

He was mayor of Paris for many years and served two terms as prime minister, including under Socialist President François Mitterrand.

He won the presidency in 1995 and then again in 2002, becoming France’s second longest serving post-war president after his predecessor, Mitterrand.

During his second term in office he refused to involve France in the war in Iraq and argued passionately about the invasion with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

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Tony Blair said that whatever differences they had had, Mr Chirac was always “unfailingly kind”

“How will you be able to look (son) Leo in the face in 20 years’ time if you are the one who unleashes this war?” he asked Mr Blair before the conflict began.

While still in office in 2005, he suffered a stroke, and his health continued to decline after he left power.

In 2011 he was given a suspended jail sentence for corruption during his period as mayor. He was found guilty of embezzlement and breach of trust for paying members of his political party for municipal jobs that did not exist.

In 2014 his wife Bernadette said he would no longer speak in public, noting he had memory trouble.

Chirac’s death: French head to palace to remember leader

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